Chapter by Amy (InnitMarvelous), InnitMarvelous
Bruce comes home; Tony and Pepper talk about to do about the crowd outside the tower
P.S. Here is the first actual chapter of Islands In the Stream
Here we are, the first chapter of Islands - I can't believe it! I hope you all enjoy it!
Please note, the story will for a little while, switch back and forth between two time periods. I will do my best to mark them when they happen.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Hello, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said as soon as the elevator doors swished closed. “Welcome back.”
Setting down his bag, Bruce smiled, “Thanks, JARVIS.” He leaned against the wall, tired, and more than a little nervous as he asked, “Are Tony and Pepper home?”
“No, Dr. Banner, they are currently away on holiday.”
“Oh.” Tony had just gotten back from living under a death sentence in federal prison, so of course they were away right now. Tony had a lot of time to make up for with his family. “Besides why would he want to see someone who is too much of a coward to stick around when he needed all of the friends he could get?”
“I beg your pardon?” JARVIS asked.
“Oh, nothing,” the man replied. “Say, JARVIS, what about everyone else? I guess I could stop by the common floor and-”
“The rest of the Avengers and their families are not currently present in the tower either, Dr. Banner.”
“So where are they at?”
“Sir and Mrs. Stark invited them to join them on their island earlier this week, and that is their current location.”
Yeah, I guess that makes sense since they were all here and helped to save Tony’s life, he thought to himself, and then asked aloud, “JARVIS, is anyone here at the tower right now?”
“Mr. Hogan is currently on his floor of residence. Shall I alert him that you are here and wish to see him?”
Bruce exited the elevator, stopping only long enough for his apartment’s door to unlock, “No, JARVIS, that’s okay. Not sure I’m up for any company anyway. Thanks, anyway.”
“You are welcome, Dr. Banner.”
Once inside, he dropped his bag on the floor and immediately when over to flop on the couch. “Hey, JARVIS?”
“Are things set up to where I can still check my emails through the TV?”
“But of course, Doctor.”
“Turn the TV on would you and pull up the menu screen.”
The TV screen came to life and was on the screen Bruce had requested. He picked up the remote and began skimming through the subject line headers. After a few minutes of not seeing anything even remotely worth his while, Bruce turned the TV off, and threw the remote back on the coffee table. Leaning back on the couch, he closed his eyes, deciding that a nap was in order before he made plans for whatever he was going to do next.
Bruce had just started to doze when he thought he heard Tony’s voice. His eyes snapped open to see the video image of one of the most maddening yet endearing people he’d ever known preparing to speak further.
“Hey, Banner, in case you completely failed to notice the note I left you on the fridge, I made this recording and asked JARVIS to play it for you if it seemed like you weren’t going to notice for a while,” Tony on the video said.
Curious as to the note the other man in the video was on about, Bruce pulled his tired body off of the couch and started towards the kitchen.
“Ha, made you look!”
Bruce turn around and glared at the TV screen, muttering as though he could be heard, “Tony, I swear one of these days…” But he was also smiling because this was just the way Tony was with him.
The way he had always been with him, since the moment they’d met on the helicarrier.
“Seriously I was going to write you a note but well I hate writing anything down so I made this video message instead.”
“Gonna get to the point anytime soon, Tony?”
“I bet you’re thinking I’m never going to get to the point…”
Bruce rolled his eyes, “Yeah the thought had occurred!”
There was still a smile on Tony’s face but he grew a bit more serious when he began, “Anyway, I left you this note ,” the billionaire made air quotes with his hands, “because there is a chance you’ll show up while we’re all away from the tower and by we I mean the rest of the team too. After everything that’s happened, Pepper and I thought that all of us getting away for awhile was a good idea, so we decided to spend a few weeks on our our private island. Well, Pepper, me and the kids will spent the first week or so by ourselves. But just a week or so by ourselves because we also decided that we wanted to spend Thanksgiving with the family aka the team if you hadn’t figured that out already.”
He paused for breath, “And Bruce, if you come back home before Thanksgiving while we’re all still there, I want you to come up too. I know you’re probably kicking yourself, blaming yourself for having to leave like that, but what you need to know is that I don’t blame you. I know you did what you had to do and I won’t ever hold it against you. I still consider you to be my science bro, my partner in crime in the lab, and I’d like to see you as soon as possible. So come on up. JARVIS and Happy will help you get here if you decide you want to come.”
“JARVIS?” Bruce said after the screen went black.
“Yes, Dr. Banner?”
“I think I want to go.”
“Very good, Doctor. Shall I apprise Mr. Hogan that you are here and that you wish to go to Starks’ private island?”
Bruce shook his head then said aloud, “Yeah, you can tell him that I’m here and want to go but also tell him that I don’t want to leave for the island today. I’m a bit tired and I want a good night’s sleep before heading on up there.”
“I understand, Doctor,” the AI responded, adding after a moment of silence, “Mr. Hogan wishes to know if you need anything?”
“Tell him, thanks but no I don’t,” Bruce answered, then flopped back down on the couch.
A minute JARVIS said, “Forgive the intrusion, Doctor Banner, but Mr. Hogan wishes to know if you’re and I quote alright for dinner unquote?”
“Not really hungry right now, and I thought that if I do get hungry later on, that I’d order something in. Why?”
“Mr. Hogan wishes to tell me the reason he inquired is because one of his niece’s dropped off a and I quote again spread of homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and all the trimmings unquote. He asked me to inform you that she brought over entirely more than he can possibly eat and would be happy to share the food with you.”
Bruce thought about it for a second then said, “Tell him I said thanks, JARVIS, but I’m really tired, and I really just want to rest tonight.”
A moment of silence hung over the air as the AI relayed his message. “Mr. Hogan says Alright, Doc. and said to tell you to let him know via by me that if you have need of anything tonight.”
“Tell him I said thank you and I will.”
“He said No prob , Doc,” and wishes you a good night, Doctor Banner.”
“Thanks, and the same to him.”
Two weeks earlier
“Okay, kiddies, you’ve got forty-five more minutes to swim and play in the pool, then it’s time to get out,” Tony said before swimming over to the steps and exiting the pool himself.
“Awww, Daddy!” complained the two little voices in unison.
“Ah, none of that now,” Pepper said, while Tony dried off, “Daddy just said you’ve got forty-five minutes and he meant it. Forty-five minutes, guys, not a minute longer.” She waited to see if they’d say anything back then turned to look at her husband who had just seated himself in the chair beside her.
Half keeping an eye on their kids, and half looking at his wife, Tony began talking in a low voice, “So, with the way things are on the outside right now, I’ve been thinking maybe the four of us need to get away for awhile.”
Pepper nodded, “I think that would be a good idea.” Before they had went to bed last night, Tony had told her about the crowd outside the tower Happy had told him about, and she could tell by the way the man was frowning earlier this morning, it was only getting bigger, “I mean since we can’t even take the kids to the park right now! But if we can find a way to get out of here and to the airport without there being trouble, I guess we could go stay in California awhile.”
“I wasn’t thinking about Malibu.”
“There where? Not Europe?”
“Australia? New Zealand?”
“As much as I know the kids would like to see kangaroos and koalas live in person and as much as I’d like to take them on hobbit hunting expedition, it’s a no no again.”
“Daddy, Eta keeps grabbing my feet underwwwwwwaterrrrr!”
As they both turned to look in their kids’ direction, Pepper was smirking as Tony opened his mouth to respond to her.
“Remember, you’re the one who taught him how to do that,” she muttered.
Her husband’s mouth closed for a second, then reopened just as their son came up for air, “Ethan?”
The boy whipped around to look in their direction, “Yeah, Daddy?”
“Stop grabbing your sister’s feet. Okay, buddy?”
“Oooookay,” came the little boy’s glum reply.
Keeping his eye on Ethan for a few seconds, Tony waited to see if he was going to leave his sister alone before turning back to his wife.
“So you want to know where I have in mind?”
“Daddy, Eta keeps grabbing my feet underwwwwwwaterrrrr!”
As they both turned to look in their kids’ direction, Pepper was smirking as Tony opened his mouth to respond to her.
“Remember, you’re the one who taught him how to do that,” she muttered.
Her husband’s mouth closed for a second, then reopened just as their son came up for air, “Ethan?”
The boy whipped around to look in their direction, “Yeah, Daddy?”
“Stop grabbing your sister’s feet. Okay, buddy?”
“Oooookay,” came the little boy’s glum reply.
Keeping his eye on Ethan for a few seconds, Tony waited to see if he was going to leave his sister alone before turning back to his wife.
“So you want to know where specifically I have in mind?”
"Okay, tell me where?"
His voice was, surprisingly or maybe not so surprisingly since he'd mentioned his father, quiet. But before she could say anything back to him, he cleared his throat.
"So, how does that sound?"
"Well, we'd certainly be alone," Pepper mused, "and after what we just went through, with you almost..." Her voice trailed off when she saw his eyes widen a bit before he nodded his head towards their kids, "Anyway I think it sounds wonderful. How soon do you want to leave?"
"But we can't!"
"For one, all the packing we... rather I would have to do tonight!"
"I'll help you, Pep."
She eyed him for a second then said,"Okay assuming you do--"
"Assuming you do, after we get the kids out of the pool and go upstairs, we'll pretty much have to get them in bed soon after we eat dinner... which we haven't decided on what it will be so it can't possibly be fixed yet!"
“Dinner is already taken care of, Ma’am, and will be waiting for you when you when you return to the penthouse.”
“You’ll like what’s for dinner, honey. Trust me.”
She gave a reluctant nod, “Okay. So, I guess you were sure I’d like the idea of leaving here for awhile, hmm? I mean you’ve already got dinner taken care of.”
“Well, I was only a little sure you’d go for my idea.”
“Oh, I was only about twelve percent sure,” he quipped, waggling his eyebrows at her.
Pepper rolled her eyes at the reference, but was smiling at him, “You sure an argument can’t be made for fifteen?”
“If you want. I’m happy to take the extra three percent.”
Pepper glanced at the time, “It’s almost time to get the kids out of the pool and head upstairs.”
“So do you want to go?”
“I’d love to go… like so much. But to get everything packed in just a few hours…”
“And what would you say if I said we actually won’t have to pack one thing?”
“Tony, what did you…”
“Oh, there just might be a whole new wardrobes suitable for island life waiting for the four of us already there, and completely ready to wear.”
She thought about it for a moment, “Well, that takes care of packing except for toothbrushes and things like that. Unless, that’s taken care of too?”
“Uh, it would probably be a good idea for us to grab that stuff but other than that, all we need to do is hop on a plane in the morning and head out. I mean JARVIS has even been in communications with BRUTUS, haven’t you, J?”
Pepper bit back a laugh, as she could almost swear to it that she heard annoyance in the AI’s voice. She probably did since she was pretty certain that JARVIS viewed BRUTUS as an annoying little brother, especially with his unsophisticated Bronx accent and all.
“So you want to go, Pep?”
She looked into his eyes, nodding. “Yes, I want to go.”
Tony gave a little fist pump, before with a smile he got up to walk over to the pool, “Okay, guys, time’s up.”
Ethan started towards the steps immediately but Eva kept swimming away. Fortunately her big brother intervened before either of them had to say anything to her.
“Hey, Evie, I’ll race you to the steps!”
“On your mark… get set… GO!”
Neither one of his parents failed to noticed the fact their son had challenged his sister to the race to keep her from getting into trouble. They had time to share a brief, knowing smile before Eva was the first to reach the pool’s steps.
“Mommy! Did you see that? Eta and me raced and I won!”
With a quick knowing glance thrown towards her husband, Pepper stepped up to wrap an oversized towel around her daughter, “I saw, sweetie.”
Tony also had a towel waiting for Ethan when he exited the pool, and wrapped it around the boy’s shoulders, “Good job, champ!”
The little boy beamed under his father’s praise and continued to dry himself off.
“Think we should tell everyone where we’re going before we leave in the morning?” Pepper asked as she slipped into Tony’s arms.
She was still having some difficulty believing this was reality in some ways because it was only like three nights ago she was sleeping in a bed not theirs in a house they didn’t own and her husband was still locked away from her in a cold prison cell.
No , she reminded herself, This is real! Tony is cleared, and you’re laying up against him, feeling the warmth of his body against yours!
“We can leave a message with JARVIS to give to the others at a set time tomorrow, or I guess we can stop by someone’s floor to tell them we’re going to be gone for, although I think leaving a message with J for them is the better idea since we’re leaving so… Pepper, honey, are you okay?”
“I asked if you’re okay, honey?”
She nodded, “Yeah, I’m okay, Why?”
“You look like you’re a million miles away, for one, and another I know it’s dark in here and but you look a little pale.”
“I am really . I guess I’m just…”
“I think I’m just afraid that I’m going to wake up any second now and discover the last few days were just a dream, and that you’re still really in prison.” In response to what she said, she felt a sigh from him rather than hearing it.
“I know what you mean about thinking that I must still be dreaming because I keep think I will wake any minute, and I’ll be back in my cell. But baby, it’s not a dream. We’ve both in our home, and in our bed, with arms and legs entangled around each other, with our kids next door to us sound asleep in their beds. We’re all home again where we belong. Okay?”
“What brought that on?”
“What made you think that you might be dreaming all of this up?”
“I guess the reason I fear that I’m still dreaming is because right before and I mean right before your lawyer called to tell me the courts had exonerated you, I dreamed he had called me to tell me the courts weren’t convinced of your innocence by the evidence the Avengers gave the President.”
“He said, in my dream, that if the President didn’t intervene, they were going to execute you in a week!”
Tony heard the hitch in her breathing and knew she was crying, so he pulled her closer to him, “I’m here, baby, and I’m not going anywhere. It was just a very bad dream.”
“I k-know it was. But it was one of the most real dreams I’ve ever had in my life,” she said after a few minutes.
“The time is now 11pm.”
“Eleven o’clock already? I guess we better get to sleep if we’re going to get out of here early in the morning!”
“Pepper, honey, are you okay?”
“Need a tissue?”
“No, I can use your t-shirt if I need to wipe my nose.”
“Use my t-shirt? No offense, honey, but isn’t that guy level gross?”
Pepper let a few seconds pass, then she giggled, “Yes, that is guy level gross , and I am only kidding! If you’d hand me a few tissues, I’d appreciate it.” She felt him reach over to the nightstand and a few seconds later, a couple of Kleenexes appeared in front of her eyes, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. All good now?”
“Yes, all good now.”
A minute or two of silence passed where the only sound in the room was both of their breathing or shifting around a little in the bed.
“I want to be there.”
“At the hearing… when Morgan and Hammer are both sentenced.”
Tony yawned before responding, “I know. Remember though, neither one of them can get the death penalty. It’s off the table.”
She sighed, “I remember. I just want to see their faces when the judge tell them they’ll never walk out of prison as free men for as long as they’re still breathing. We have to be there for that.”
“We will be, honey. Rooney says neither one of them will be sentenced until sometime next year. I think Rooney said it was either in February or March. Uh J, which one was it it?”
“March 6th, 2022, I believe is the date Mr. Rooney said the court designated for the sentencing of both Morgan Stark and Justin Hammer.”
“Don’t let us forget it or plan anything else around that time so we miss it, JARVIS.”
“I won’t, Ma’am, I assure.”
“It is my utmost pleasure, Ma’am.”
Pepper smiled as her husband yawned again.
“Okay, let’s get some shut then!”
“Alright. Goodnight, Tony.”
“Goodnight, my Pep, I love you.”
“I love you too, Tony, so much that… I’m not sure I have the words to say just how much.”
“I know what you mean. I feel the same way about you.”
The next morning after getting the kids up, fed, and ready to go via helicopter to the airport, Tony and Pepper recorded a message for JARVIS to relay to everyone else while the kids listened to one of Uncle Happy’s stories. Happy would go with them as far as the airport and then he’d be off on vacation for as long as they were out of town.
Once their joint message was recorded, Tony asked Pepper to give him just a few more minutes to record just one more message… down in the workshop.
”Hey, J, when Bruce left did he leave any indication as to where he was going?”
“No, Sir, he did not. Furthermore, because Dr. Banner waited until he had left Stark Tower to purchase his flight ticket, I cannot extrapolate his locate that way either.”
“What about his known aliases?”
“I”m sorry, Sir, but it appears that Dr. Banner used an alias that was unknown to us.”
“Hmm, sounds like Brucie boy doesn’t want me or anyone else to find him,” Tony muttered.
“Shall I try SHIELD’s records, Sir?”
Tony gave it some consideration then said, “Nah, if he went to this much trouble to disappear for awhile, then let’s just let Banner be.”
“Very well, Sir.”
“I just hope that Bruce isn’t somewhere so primitive where it’ll take him years for him to find out that I’m still alive!”
“Well enough about our wandering biologist for the moment. Let’s get finished up what needs to be finished up so I can get out of here before Pepper asks you what I’m doing.” With that, Tony opened up the files he had come to his workshop to work on, and, spent the next forty minutes absorbed in schematics.
“Sir,” JARVIS interrupted, “Mrs. Stark asked that I inform you that the helicopter has arrived , and that they’re awaiting you return upstairs.”
“Alright J, save and shut everything down.”
As the lights in the room went into dim mode, Tony delayed his departure from the room only long enough to grab a communication tablet from a nearby workbench.
Sorry for the tiny bit of angst towards the end of this chapter. I promised there won't be much of it in this story and there won't be. This angst though did sneak up on me just a little but with them only being a literal few days past Tony sitting in prison on death row, you know he and Pepper are going to talk about it a little bit while they process everything from the last six months of their lives.
Chapter by Amy (InnitMarvelous), InnitMarvelous
I know this might be a little too soon after Endgame but I promise you my goal is to keep this story as angst free as I can, and if there is any, it'll be related to past events of my verse.
Please be careful with your comments if you want to mention Endgame in any way. I have seen it but if there's someone out there who hasn't seen it, I don't want it to be spoiled for them.
“You look so beautiful in the morning sunlight here.”
Pepper smiled but didn’t turn back towards the bed. She had awakened about twenty minutes ago and had come over to the window to spend a little alone time. She had become aware that Tony was awake about five minutes ago when she heard a change in his breathing, and then felt his eyes were watching her. She let another minute pass before she quipped back, “Well, I guess we’ll have to stay here forever, since the morning sunlight can pull off miracles.”
There was a huff followed by a sputter followed by, “You know what I meant!”
She still had a smile on her face when she turned around, and said, “Oh, I do?” The same sunlight he said made her beautiful must have been preventing him from seeing the playful, amusement in her eyes, “I do? Because to me it sounded like you just said the morning sunlight somehow enhances how I look.” She sounded so serious that she almost had herself convinced that she was being serious.
“No, that’s not what I… what a second! Are you laughing?”
While she listened to him, Pepper had fought not to laugh but was slowly losing the battle. Her shoulder started shaking, and her vision was getting blurred from the tears of mirth forming there.
“You are laughing at me, aren’t you?”
Pepper finally lost it at his question and started laughing out loud. The volume of her laughter only became louder when she looked over and saw him give her a puzzled look. Her laughter only began to falter when he huffed suddenly, and turned over in the bed so that his back was now facing her. She thought he was only putting on an act of being upset with her laughing, so she didn’t immediately stop laughing. When he didn’t turn over or look at her again, she became concerned that she really had upset him, and quickly walked back over to their bed.
“Tony?” she said a bit timidly, leaning over him, becoming even more concerned when she saw his eyes were closed, “Tony?”
He moved in a flash, reaching out to grab her by her wrists and then he pulled on her arms until she toppled over into the bed. Pepper shrieked as she hit the bed. He pounced on her, and started to tickle her sides. Of course from the second he started tickling her, Pepper was shrieking again, but this time it was along with uproarious laughter.
The more he tickled, the more she laughed, and the more she thought about how the sound of her laughter was going to wake up their kids if she hadn’t already. But the thought remained in her head as she couldn’t get enough breath to say the word stop muchless point out they were being too loud! Sure enough a few seconds later they heard a little, sleepy voice.
“Mommy, what’s going on?”
Tony thankfully ceased and desisted with the tickling, letting her go. Pepper partially sat up on her elbows, taking in several breaths before she could speak to answer the inquiry. It shouldn’t have been a surprised to find both of their kids standing in the doorway of their room, not with as loud as she’d been laughing or not with as much noise they had been making, yet somehow it was.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. Mommy and Daddy were just being a little bit silly!” At her son’s skeptical look, she continued on, “Do you guys want some breakfast? Hmm?” Much to her husband’s annoyance she was sure, she got out of bed again, and walked towards their children.
Eva was the one of them to answer her mother’s question about breakfast, “Nuh uh… don’t wan breakf’st. Sleepy!”
Ethan nodded his head in agreement with his sister.
“Okay, then why don’t you both go get in bed with Daddy and sleep a little while longer while Mommy gets a shower then makes breakfast?” She didn’t have to suggest it twice as both of the kids went over to the bed and crawled into it.
“Hey!” Eva protested, her voice just a little bit on the sullen side, “I wanna be next to Daddy!”
Although it was rare for siblings rivalry or jealousy to rear its ugly head with their kids, there were still moments when it happened, and when it did, they always tried to resolve it as quickly as possible in hopes of avoiding something happening that would cause hurt feelings. Of course this morning was no exception, and Tony nudged his son.
“Scoot over to Mommy’s side, sport, and you come around over here, princess.” Ethan gave what sounded like an annoyed huff but scooted over as he’d been told while Eva walked around to the other side of the bed. Once there, the little girl was helped into the bed by her Daddy, and soon the three of them were snuggling down underneath the covers.
Pepper had stayed long enough to watch to see how the situation would play out. Before she turned to go get her shower, her eyes met with Tony’s and he winked at her before he closed his own eyes to catch a few more minutes of sleep with their little loves.
After waking them up again, they all had breakfast together outside at the small table on the porch. Then it would be time for playing on the beach, which suited Pepper fine because the days of play in the sun were helping Tony to get some coloring back after his time in prison. Plus the added bonus of watching him dig and make sand castles with Eva was too precious beyond words
Pepper played with the kids too, but she also tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible since she knew she would burn way too easily. She wore sunscreen of of course, industrial strength in fact, but it still would not stop her from getting a really bad sunburn if she didn’t stay in the shade some time! As she watched Ethan running around the beach with his sister and Daddy, she was thankful that both of her kids seemed to have inherited Tony’s tendency to tan instead of getting burned.
It must be the Italian heritage from his mother , she thought, watching now as it appeared as both their kids piled warm sand onto her husband prone form. She let them work at piling the sand on a while without any comment but decided once they had him mostly buried, it’d be a good idea to put some kind of shade over her husband’s head. She opened an umbrella smaller than the one she’d been taking shelter under and walked over to where by now only Tony’s head was sticking out of the sand.
He looked up at her when he was suddenly in the shade instead of the sun, and smiled, “Thanks, honey.”
Pepper had been about to respond, when a little voice spoke up first.
“Shhh, Daddy!” Eva said, putting her little hand on his lips.
Her parents exchanged a puzzled look with each other then Tony turned his head so her hand wasn’t over his mouth any more, and asked, “What was that, princess?”
The little girl responded by using both of her hands to cover her Daddy’s mouth, “Shhh, Daddy! You not s’posed to talk!”
“Why not, sweetie?” Pepper asked, looking at her husband again, “Why isn’t Daddy supposed to be talking?”
Eva tilted her little head up in her mother’s direction, “Coz!”
“ ’Coz’ why, cutie pie?” Tony asked from behind her hands.
The little girl gave him an outraged look, and both of her parents might have laughed if it wasn’t for the fact she also answered his question with, “Coz you dead, Daddy!”
The smile immediately vanished from her mother’s face, and Pepper was pale as she choked out, “W-what was that? What did you s-say?”
Of course Eva didn’t notice that what she had said so innocently had upset her mother and had her father wanting to get out from underneath the sand.
“Baby--” Tony started, seeing how upset his wife was getting.
“Quiet, Daddy! No talking! You dead!”
Tony watched his wife as their little girl continued to insist he was dead. He watched her turned white as a sheet for several seconds over their daughter’s choice of words. He decided it was time for this game to be at an end before his little girl found herself in trouble with her mother.
He sat up, and as he expected Eva immediately reacted the way he had though she would.
The little girl put her hand on his shoulder and tried to push him back towards the sand, “Daddy--”
Tony grabbed her hands in his, “Let me just stop you right there, kiddo. You’re about to get into a whole lot of trouble with Mommy. You need to please stop saying Daddy’s dead, okay?”
“But she’s just playing!” Ethan exclaimed, giving both his parents a look that said he didn’t understand what the issue was but he was getting indignant on his sister’s behalf just the same.
“We know, buddy. We know your sister isn’t trying to upset Mommy but she should do what Mommy has asked her to do and stop saying what she’s been saying.”
“But--” Two little voices said in unison.
He put a finger on his lips, “Shhh, both of you.” His son was clearly going to say something else that continued the subject so he added, “I mean it, Ethan. Drop it, now .”
It was obvious the little boy wasn’t happy about having to let go of the matter, but he did finally, swallow whatever words he’d been about to say. He returned to digging in the sand while his parents exchanged a relieved look with each other. They were here on the island to have time together as a family and the last thing either one of them wanted to do would be to enforce a consequence for one or both of their kids for being defiant.
“Okay, I think it’s getting close to lunch time. Let’s start getting the sand cleaned off before we go back inside,” Pepper told them after a moment of silence.
“Awwww, Mommy!” one little voice, Eva’s, complained.
“None of that, princess. You need to do what Mommy said without anymore whining. Okay?”
The little girl looked at her Daddy after he finished speaking, and seemed to decide she didn’t want to test him because she started brushing the sand off of herself.
After lunch, Tony and the kids got into a game of bocce ball. Well it was almost a game as he spent most of their time trying to teach the kids the rules and how to play the game. After they’d been playing for almost an hour, Tony looked over to his wife, “Hey honey, I’m really thirsty. Would you mind bringing out some lemonade for all of us?”
She was quite thirsty herself, she so readily nodded, “That sounds really good, actually. I’ll go make us some glasses.”
“Thanks, honey. Okay, kids, let’s go see how the hammocks feel!”
Pepper came back out onto the porch a few minutes later with a tray of lemonade glasses in her hands. She stopped for a moment to look around then started towards the hammock where all had fallen silent while she went inside the bungalow. When she reached the area, she set the tray down on one of the nearby lounge chairs, and tipped toed over to the hammock.
Tony laid in the center of the hammock with his eyes closed. Ethan laid on his left side with his arm wrapped around his daddy, his head pillowed by Tony’s shoulder. Eva was on Tony’s right, her little arm wrapped around her daddy as far as it would go, her little head resting almost on her Daddy’s chest. Both were snuggled tightly against him, being held by the man who loved them both the most. Wrapped in the security of his loving arms they, along with him, had all three fallen fast asleep.
Pepper watched them for a moment, smiling and wiping away tears, thinking about what had nearly happened a month ago. Once again a flood of gratitude that Tony was alive and still with them flooded her being. She truly did not have any idea how she would have explained his death to their children if the Avengers had not come through with an eleventh hour save.
Pepper went back into the house to grab her camera and as she walked back outside she made sure the flash was off. Although the natural lighting should be just bright enough, she mentally crossed her fingers just in case. She wanted so much to get the perfect picture of them snuggled together, asleep. She got as close to them as she dared, moved herself and the camera around, until everything was just right, then pressed the button. A few seconds later, Pepper looked at the camera screen, and smiled as she saw her effort had resulted in a perfect, priceless picture.
Satisfied, she walked a few feet away from her slumbering loves, back towards the bungalow where she quietly said, “BRUTUS?”
“Yes, Missus. Stark?” the AI immediately responded in the same quiet tone she was using.
“Do you know how long Tony and the kids have been asleep?”
“According to the bio-signs reading from the Boss’s wrist watch, the Boss has been asleep for approximately for eight minutes. I would estimate that the kids fell asleep between five to ten minutes earlier than the Boss.”
“Thanks, BRUTUS. Would you please vibrate Tony’s watch when they’ve slept for an hour and no longer? And by they I mean the kids, not Tony.”
She knew if they slept much longer than that, they wouldn’t want to go to bed tonight, and they needed to get a good night’s sleep tonight because tomorrow would be a busy day for them all. Tomorrow, their family would start arriving to join them on the island, and Pepper knew the kids would want plenty of energy so they could play with their cousins.
“Sure thing, Missus S.”
With that settled, she returned to the lounge area, and laid down in one of the chairs. She thought about picking up the half read novel she had laying there on the table but decided watching the horizon would be more relaxing. She sipped on one of the glasses of lemonade she’d brought out, watched the clouds and the horizon, thinking back on the last week they’d spent here already.
Later in the night, after both kids were in asleep in their beds, their parents were outside snuggling together in the same hammock Tony had taken a nap in with the kids, stargazing among other things. Bur holding one another and enjoying the warmth of other is mainly what they did. After everything that had had had happened in the last seven months, after they were denied the ability to touch each other for most of those months, they needed to now make up for the time they lost but had been unable to, as of yet, been able to satiate that need.
They both doubted in their hearts they ever would reach that point.
The denial of physical touch had been one of the things that hurt more than almost anything else in the situation.
Only Tony’s almost execution had left the both of them in more pain.
Speaking of which…
“Pep?” Tony began, unsure if she was still awake.
“Hmm?” she responded in a way that suggested she was half dozing, half awake.
He almost started not to say what he was thinking, knowing what he wanted to say would wake her up from the comfortable place she was in. But then, he knew what he was thinking needed to be said.
“Honey, you know Eva was just playing and didn’t mean anything bad when she kept saying I was supposed to be dead, right?”
He heard her sigh.
“Yes, I know she didn’t mean anything bad but… Tony, we almost had to really bury you last month!”
While running a hand up and down her arm her reminded her of an important fact, “But honey, she doesn’t know about my almost ex… that I almost died. Neither of them do, and I hope we can keep it that way until they’re both way older, and can hopefully understand it when we do tell them.”
Pepper gave a humorless snort, “How can they understand it when I myself can’t understand it?”
“That’s why I said, hopefully, keyword there. But my point is, they don’t know what happened, and Eva didn’t have a clue why what she was saying was upsetting you. She also didn’t know you were on your way to blowing your stack either. You were too, weren’t you?”
He felt the motion of a nod against him.
“Yeah,” she muttered, “Yeah I was on my way to getting angry… to losing my temper with them. With both of them, I’m sorry have to say that, but I was oh very much closer than I want to admit to being.” She huffed out a breath, “So thank you for intervening before it went any further.”
“No problem… I just wish…”
“You just wish what?”
When he didn’t answer her, Pepper brought her head up far enough to repeat her question.
Tony shook his head, sighing, “I just wish I didn’t have to get so serious with them sometimes. I know I’ve been a Dad now for eight years but… but I really kinda hate it when I’m forced to be, well, a grown up with them. I guess when I actually hate to be their Father instead of just being their Daddy. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yeah… yeah I do know what you mean because the times I’ve had to get super serious with them.”
“Fortunate for us, though, they’re both great kids.”
“Right now they are.”
“What do you mean, right now?”
“Well, they haven’t hit their teenage years yet. I don’t know about you…” Although I bet I can imagine. “But when I hit those years, there were a few bumps.”
“Ooo are you telling me you were a wild thing during your teenage years, Mrs. Stark?”
“I’m not sure wild thing describes my teenage years, but there were times I wasn’t as respectful to my father as I should have been. I really regret it now because my Dad’s health started to go down during the latter part of those years and then he died a few months after I turned twenty.”
“Oh, honey… I’m sorry…”
“It’s okay. I’ve made peace with it as much as I can, and I know… I know…”
“You know your father always loved you?”
“Yes, I know he did. Even when I was being a brat to him.”
Tony tried to lighten the mood by saying teasingly, “Huh… Miss Virginia Potts was bratty as a teenager. Imagine that! I can’t!”
Pepper lightly smacked him, “You just better hope my bratty self doesn’t return when Eva hits puberty because then you’ll find out exactly what my Dad dealt with!”
“The time is now eleven P.M.,” BRUTUS stated, interrupting any further conversation.
“‘Fraid so, Boss.”
“Well, we better get to bed soon,” Pepper said before she started untangling her body from her husband’s.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Tony groused, reluctantly letting her leave his embrace.
“Sorry we invited company now?”
“No, of course not!”
She arched an eyebrow at him as he sat up in the hammock.
“Well okay, yes ... a little but not in the way you’re thinking.”
“Then how exactly?”
Tony didn’t answer as he got to his feet, and then put his arm around her waist. They started back inside when he said, “I think more than anything, I am not looking forward to seeing Steve again. You’ve watched and known us long enough to know what our issues are with each other. I know it’s way past time time for us to bury the hatchet. I have a feeling that while we’re all here, there will probably be a day when he and I will go off somewhere, just the two of us, to make our peace with each other.”
“I’m sure it will turn out fine, Tony.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, I do, and it’ll be better than you think.”
“I hope so because after what he did for us… for me something has got to give between us. I want us all to be a family, Pep, a real family. Like we should have been all along.”
They had stopped just outside their house, and facing her husband, Pepper reached up to touch his face, “Have faith.”
“Mmmhmm… faith that everything is going to work out just fine. The way it is supposed to.”
Chapter by Amy (InnitMarvelous), InnitMarvelous
It's been a few days since the Avengers arrived on the island, and all is well... except for one lonely heart on the island that Tony wants to see be happy.
Despite what I just said, all you'll find here is mild angst, I promise!
I am heading forward with what I have for this story already. It's not quite what I had planned but hopefully you will all still enjoy this story.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
While taking a sip of his drink, the last of Tony’s laugh died when he turned in the opposite direction, and saw the beautiful raven haired woman walking along the beach all by herself. There was quite some space between them, but even at this distance Tony could see the sadness on her face. He sighed, then jumped when two arms encircled his waist and his wife’s face appeared on his shoulder.
“Hello, Mr. Stark,” Pepper murmured in his ear.
“Hello, Mrs. Stark,” he replied, and kissed her lips when she turned her head enough for him to do so.
The team, or the rest of their family as they now forever would be, had arrived on the island four days ago, and everyone seems to be settling in perfectly. It was wonderful to see and experience for a change. A change Pepper knew she could get used to just after a few days because although they’d lived under the same roof for years, the families rarely seem to get together except for rare occasions like one or two holidays and to celebrate birthdays.
The Avengers certainly didn’t come together except for when there was a call for them to assemble to fight the newest bad guy or bad guys who thought they were strong enough to defeat Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The harmony they were displaying right now proves that they should have been doing things like this years ago, and they would have too if the two men considered by the team to be their leaders would have had a real conversation.
Yes, in the short time everyone else had been here, Tony and Steve finally had the conversation they hadn’t been putting off just for days but for years . On the second morning after they arrived, they’d both reached a silent agreement to go off to another part of the island, just the two of them, to get everyone of their differences regarding each other out of their systems. It obviously hadn’t been a fun or easy experience for either of them if the way they looked when they returned were anything to judge by. But it had been needed to do if they ever wanted to be the team, the family that they always should have been from the second Fury brought them together.
Their kiss lasted a few seconds more, and then Pepper looked back in the direction he had been looking.
Betty had arrived the morning after the others, and although they’d all been doing her best to feel a part of their family, it was obvious she was feeling anything but the way they were trying for.
“I think we might have made a mistake, Pep,” Tony said as his eyes followed the lonely woman. “I mean she’s been talking with everyone and playing with the kids some but-”
“She’s been trying not to be a third wheel and been staying mostly to herself,” Pepper finished sadly.
“Yeah, she has.” Tony watched her and shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess I really thought he’d show up again after… it was all over. I thought he’d show, JARVIS would relay our invite to come here, and he’d show up with the rest of the team… or at least he’d get here around she sae time that she made it. Oh, Pep, I wanted it so badly to be a wonderful surprise for them both Because I know how much Bruce has missed her.”
As they watched Betty turned towards the sea, and as she stared off at the horizon, wrapping her arms around herself as though giving herself a hug.
“She still loves him, you know?” Pepper murmured in his ear.
Tony nodded, “I know, and Bruce loves her… I don’t think he ever stopped loving her... which is why I had hoped the big galoot would have enough sense to come back home by now.”
“Well everyone is going to be here for several more days. Maybe there’s a chance that Bruce will get here before then?”
“I hope so.”
Pepper smiled, and kissed him, “Oh, what would the world think if they knew that, at heart, Iron Man was a big, soft romantic?”
Kissing her back, Tony said, “It’s better if they didn’t know. I have a reputation to maintain you know.”
“Hmm, I know.”
“Besides,” he said, casting another glance in Betty’s direction, “It is because I’m a big, soft romantic at heart or it is because I just want to see the people that I lo... care about being with all of the people that they love too for once?”
“I love you, Tony,” His wife replied, her voice cracking with the depths of everything she felt for the amazing man she’d married.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
Whatever reply he had been about to make was lost when their daughter came running up to them.
Suppressing a groan at the interruption, Tony smiled at Eva, and asked, “What is it, princess?”
“Sand castles, Daddy!”
“Okay, what about them, sweetpea?”
“I think you promised that you’d build some with Eva today,” Pepper piped in to remind him.
“Huh, so I did,” he replied, and handed her his drink as Eva grabbed his hand.
“Come on, Daddy!” the little girl squealed.
“Okay, baby, hold your seahorses! Daddy’s coming!”
Pepper laughed at what he said, and at the sight of their tiny daughter dragging her husband down the beach.
Hours later after they had all finished eating dinner, the families spread out some blankets on the sand, all settling down together on the beach to make s’mores with their kids while they watched the sun dip into the Caribbean. Since she was the only on the island without a spouse or a family, Pepper invited Betty to come sit with them.
At first Betty had refused saying, “Thank you but I don’t want to disturb your family time together.” She was, of course, aware of the ordeal they’d just come through less than a month ago.
But Pepper would not let her off that easily, “You won’t be disturbing us.”
“Are you sure?”
Pepper nodded, “I’m sure.” When the other woman hesitated again, she added, “Please, Dr. Ross-”
“Betty… please call me Betty, Mrs. Stark.”
With another nod, Pepper said, “Only if you’ll finally start calling me either Pepper or Ginny?” They had had this more than once since the scientist had arrived on the island, and she hoped that it would take this time.
“All right… Ginny, as I was saying, I don’t want to disturb your family time and it’s okay because I was actually thinking about calling it a night.”
Betty nodded, “Yeah.”
“But it’s way too early for bed!” Pepper said, glancing towards the west, “I mean the sun hasn’t even gone down yet!” She pointed to the ocean, “Do you really want to miss seeing that sight?”
The other woman shrugged, “What can I say? It’s been a big day and I’m very tired.” She yawned. “See? I am tired.”
Her yawn had seemed very fake to Pepper, and they both knew it was something she had done for Pepper’s benefit. But what could she do? Even if it was a fake yawn, Pepper knew that there was no way she could force Betty to accept her invitation.
So she instead she made a suggestion.
“Betty, I know that you said you were tired so why don’t you come sit with us long enough to have one s’more? You do like s’mores, right?”
Betty smiled, “Yes, I love them actually.”
“Okay, then, why don’t you come and have just one with us then?”
Betty finally nodded her head, sighing, “Okay, I’ll come have just one.” She followed Pepper over to the blanket, and watched as she sat down beside her husband.
“Here you go,” Ethan said, handing her a stick to roast her marshmallow on.
“Thank you, sweetheart.”
“You’re welcome, Miss Betty,” the boy replied as he finished skewering a marshmallow, and held it over the fire.
Pepper passed the bag of the white confectionary treats to her. She nodded her thanks as peals of laughter rang out from where Eva was sitting on the other side of her father. Betty looked over to see the little girl’s face was covered with melted chocolate from the confectionary treat she held in her hands.
“Eva!” The little girl’s mother said as she picked up a napkin and started to clean off the child’s face.
“Mommy!” Eva whined pulling away from her mother.
“Oh, let her be, Pep!” Tony said when she tried again to clean their daughter up.
“But she’s getting chocolate and marshmallow everywhere, Tony!”
“So, what’s wrong with that?”
“Oh, honestly Tony! Do I really have to explain what’s… TONY!”
Betty had been concentrating on making her s’more that she didn’t know why the CEO of Stark Industries was suddenly laughing at her husband. She looked over at him to see Pepper shaking her head, and handing him a napkin. Tony’s face was as covered exactly like his daughter’s, and his grin was just as wide.
“Tony…” That was all Pepper could get out because she was laughing so hard.
“What?” Tony said, shrugging and taking another bite, “The messier it is, the better it is! Right, princess?”
Pepper started laughing again, shaking her head as Ethan handed her the s’more that he had just made.
“Thank you, baby,” she said as soon as she could breathe again.
Betty just smiled as she watched them, basking in their warmth as much as she was the fire.
Betty did indeed only stay long enough to eat one s’more, and then she said goodnight to everyone before walking off towards her bungalow. None of the families were able to stay long on the beach after the sun finished going down as one by one the kids all stretched out on the blankets, and fell asleep.
Tony and Pepper had stayed for a little while after all the others had carried their little ones off to bed, enjoying the beauty of the stars as they appeared in the sky, along with the fact they were together. In the end they were forced to make the decision it was time to go inside once a steady breeze began blowing up off of the ocean, chilling them both. Tony had carefully gathered his son up in his arms while Pepper scooped up Eva into hers.
“So BRUTUS, has everyone settled down for the night?” Tony asked as soon as he had left Ethan’s room.
“Yeah, Boss, except there is one tiny thing,” the AI responded.
“And what is that?” Tony asked, as Pepper emerged from Eva’s room.
“Dr. Ross is awake and wishes to speak to you and the Missus ASAP.”
They shared a look before Pepper said, “I wonder what she could want?”
“Well there’s only one way to find out. BRUTUS, ask her if she’ll meet with us out on the front porch.”
“Will do, Boss.”
They went outside, and sat down on the porch to await her arrival. While they were waiting, Pepper mused aloud, “I wonder what she wants to talk to us about? I hope it’s not going to be what I think it might be.”
“What do you think it might be?”
“I-” Her voice trailed off as she saw the woman they were talking about step onto the porch. Pointing to an empty nearby lounge chair, Pepper said,“Betty, hello! Come on over here and talk to us! Is there something wrong?”
Betty walked over to where they were sitting, and sat down on the edge of the offered seat, “Hi, I know it’s getting late…”
It actually wasn’t all that late but Pepper wasn’t about to point that out, and she slightly nudged Tony to prevent him from pointing it too.
“But there’s something I needed to tell you both.”
Pepper had a sinking feeling in her stomach while Tony was the one who voiced the obvious question of “What is it?”
There was a sigh from Betty as she began, “Mr. Stark-”
“Tony,” he corrected automatically, “‘Mr. Stark’ was my father, and I reserve being mistaken for him for people I do business with, not my friends.”
The scientist nodded, then started again, “Tony… Ginny, I wanted to say thank you for your invitation to come here. The island is beautiful, and so peaceful, and I’ve enjoyed being here…”
They both sensed and waited for the but they both knew was coming.
“But,” she went on, “I’ve just remembered some things back at the university that I need to do, and… well if it can be arranged, I’d like to head back home tomorrow morning.”
Tony decided to let his wife take the lead on this, and nodded to her.
She looked at Betty, “Uh, sure we can arrange for you to return home tomorrow if that’s what you really want to do. That isn’t a problem.”
“Good thank you because it is what I want to do. I need to get back home.”
Pepper glanced at her husband again, then back to Betty, “Okay, we’ll arrange for you to go back home tonight if that is what you want, but Thanksgiving is only four days away. Is it alright if I ask you what your plans are for that day?” They knew that Betty’s father had died of a heart attack four months earlier. As far they knew or could tell, she had no other family she could spend the day.
Betty shrugged, “Other than probably working on my research that day, I have no special plans. It’s just another day for me with my Dad gone.” When she saw the sadness that came over their faces at the thought she’d be alone on a day for being with the people you love she added, “Oh, please don’t worry about me. I appreciate your concern, but I have some friends I can spend Thanksgiving with if I want to be with someone that day.”
“Are you sure that we can’t talk you into staying for Thanksgiving?” Tony asked, saying the first thing he had said since the conversation had started.
She sighed, “No, I’m sorry I know you invited me because of my… past relationship with Bruce. And I really do appreciate the generosity it took for you to invite someone who is for all intents and purposes a stranger to your family. To be honest with you both, and I hope I don’t offend you by saying this but I haven’t been very comfortable here since I arrived.”
It was Pepper’s turn to sigh, “I think I’ve sensed that, and I’m sorry that you’ve been uncomfortable.”
“I am too and believe me, it isn’t because of anything that either of you or anyone else has said or done. I hope you can understand what I’m saying?”
Pepper nodded, “Yeah, I think we can understand.”
Tony also nodded, and pulled what looked like a cell phone to Betty from his pocket, “I’m sorry that things didn’t work out.”
“So am I. I mean you’ve all be great to me but well I just need to get back home and attend to my life there.”
Tony tapped a few things on the screen of the device in his hands, “What time did you want to leave tomorrow?”
Betty thought about a moment, “I’d like to get out of here first thing… maybe before anyone else wakes up. If you can... if that’s possible to arrange?” She watched his fingers move over the screen.
“Done. The seaplane to take you to the nearby big island will be here at 7am sharp.”
The scientist sighed again, “Thank you, Mr. Star-- I mean Tony.”
He nodded, “You’re welcome.”
“And thank you, both of you, for being so understanding.”
“So much for that,” Tony muttered dejectedly as she disappeared into the dark.
“I’m sorry, Tony. You tried.”
“Yeah, I tried,” he replied, wrapping his arm around her.
When Tony sighed for the umpteenth time that morning, Pepper wrapped an arm around his waist. She laid her head on his shoulder has he in turn wrapped his arm around her . They both continued to watch the woman on the dock as she waited for the seaplane to arrive.
“I’m sorry you’re disappointed,” she said quietly.
“You know I’m not so much disappointed for myself as I’m… as I am sad for them. Bruce… I really thought he would have come back by now. I mean come on, he left because I was arrested! He has to know by now that the team cleared my name. I mean someone has to have told him by now!”
“Not necessarily, since we don’t know where in the world he went. You know how he is.”
“Yeah, and since Banner tends to go to the farthest out of civilization places he can find…” Tony groaned, and shook his head, “Yeah, he’s probably some place where they don’t get much news from the outside world, if they ever do!” He sighed again in sad frustration.
“You tried to do something that I think would have been wonderful for your friend.” Pepper knew that he had grown close to Bruce in the years they’d know each other. She knew that he loved the quiet scientist nearly as much as he loved Rhodey or Happy.
“Too bad we’ll never know that for sure now.”
“Still, your heart was in the right place, Tony. The fact Bruce didn’t come doesn’t change that.”
“I still wish he had come.”
At that moment, the seaplane appeared on the horizon. For the next few minutes not a word was said as they watched it approach, land on the water about a hundred feet out, then circle around to the deck.
“Is there supposed to be a co-pilot?” Tony asked as the plane finished pulling up.
Pepper smiled at his question, “You’re the one who made the arrangements. You tell me.”
Before he could give a response the door to the seaplane opened, and a familiar head popped out of it. They heard Betty gasp audibly, and her hands flying up to her mouth as she said, “Bruce?”
The surprise on Bruce’s face would have been comical if it were for any other reason than the fact he was seeing the love of his life again. It didn’t take him long to recover from his shock of seeing her on the dock, and he jumped down from the plane. He reached out towards her, and stopped before saying, “Betty? Is it really you?”
Betty answered by touching his cheek, nodding as she stared into his eyes, “Yes, it’s really me.”
“How are you-”
He never had the chance to finish that question as she kissed him with fierce tenderness and with desperation.
“YES!” Tony said grinning, pumping his fist into the air.
I hope one day I will be able to expand on Tony and Steve's conversation but that won't be today or anytime soon.
Chapter by Amy (InnitMarvelous), InnitMarvelous
The happy getaway for everyone continues.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“It’s been two days, Pep,” Tony said, looking in the direction of the bungalow that Bruce and Betty had disappeared inside of on the day he had arrived, “Don’t you think we should go check on them?” The families had gathered on the beach to share breakfast that morning.
Rolling her eyes, as this wasn’t the first time she’d heard this mentioned this morning, Pepper handed her daughter back a piece of freshly sliced appleF before shaking her head. “No, I think we should continue to respect their privacy. We’ll see them when they’re ready to come out and join us.”
“But it’s been two days, Pep!”
“I know! We should send an invite for them to come have breakfast with us!”
She sighed, and shook her head, “Tony, no. Don’t.”
“Remember how everyone gave us space and privacy after you got out of you know where a few weeks ago?”
Tony suddenly became somber at the mention of his recent imprisonment and release. He nodded, “Yes, I remember how everyone was then, and I remember how much I appreciated the space they gave us after I got back home.”
“Well that’s what we’ve been doing for Bruce and Betty by not disturbing their privacy right now. I mean I can imagine the way they’re feeling... it’s probably almost like Bruce just got out of prison too with the passing of Betty’s father.” Pepper didn’t know every little bit of the details of Bruce’s history with Thaddeus Ross but she did know enough to know that he was one of the main reasons Bruce had been in hiding for years.
He nodded, “Yeah, I guess they probably are feeling something similar since that man did everything he could to keep them apart.”
“Tony, I know you consider Bruce to be a friend-”
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever had!”
Pepper nodded thinking about the close friendship her husband shared with the soft-spoken scientist they had been talking about. “I know that he is, and I know how you always want what is best for your friends and try to do what makes them happy.”
“Bruce deserves some happiness after all this time… and everything that he’s been through.”
“Yes, he does,” Pepper agreed, thinking about Bruce was one of the kindest people she knew.
“I just hope that he realizes that this is his time… their time, and he will do something about it.”
“I hope he does too,” she agreed, “But whether or not he does, that is up to him. You’ve done everything you can do to help him reach that realization. You’ve been a good friend to him but the chips are going to have to fall wherever they may now.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. They’re going to have to fall wherever they may,” Tony conceded with a groan.
Pepper kissed him, “Bruce is smart. I think he knows that this may be his last chance to have something really special with Betty. You just need to trust him to be smart enough to take the chance. Okay?”
He nodded, sighed, and after a moment started to grin before he turned towards where Rhodey was sitting beside his youngest sister, and called out, “Hey, platypus, is there any chance we’ll get to see Monica soon?”
Rhodey glanced down at twenty-seven month old nephew to find the little boy just starting to wake from the nap he’d been having in his uncle’s arms. Although Alyssa had reassured him that the toddler would stay asleep if he raised his voice a little to talk others not close by, Rhodey still hadn’t since he hadn’t wanted to wake Eric up. But now that he was starting to wake up he called back, “Her, Colton, and Frank should be here by late this afternoon or early tomorrow morning at the latest!”
His girlfriend been delayed in coming to the island because of a project that she, as the head of the SI biophysics, had felt like she needed to be on hand to see the completion of it through. They had been working on it for most of the year, and Rhodey knew they’d finished it the day before to great success from what Monica had told him in her phone call. He knew they would have hopped on the flight here that very day if she hadn’t been too tired to deal with traveling to the island.
His best and dearest friend had opened his mouth to say something in reply to that when a hand clamped firmly over it. Rhodey was curious about what Tony had been about to say, but not that curious, given Tony also had an expression on his face that Rhodey was all too familiar with. If Pepper hadn’t stopped her husband from speaking, first with her hand, then by kissing him when Tony began to protest, Rhodey knows that whatever his friend had been about to saying would have either been sarcastic or suggestive. Judging the look the billionaire had had on his face from the thirty-three years of experience he had of knowing Tony Stark, Rhodey knew it would have been the latter instead of the former.
Shaking his head as the kiss between Pepper and Tony continued, Rhodey looked back at his sister, picking up where their conversation had been interrupted, while in his arms his nephew started wiggling to get down.
Sam spiked the ball.
Clint dived into the sand, trying to keep it from hitting the ground.
Spitting the sputtering the grit out before he wiped the outer part of his mouth free of sand, Hawkeye pointed a finger at his fellow bird man on the team, and said as seriously as he possibly could, “Oh you are going down for that, Falcon!”
Sam laughed, “Bring it on, Barton! Bring it on!”
Clint glared at him for two more seconds and then bust out laughing too. The two men exchanged handshakes at the net, still laughing.
“Hey, Featherbrain!” Tony said as he came between the two of them and swatted at their hands. He gave Clint who was still laughing a glare, before he said, “You do know that you’re on Team Iron Man and not Team Captain America right?”
The archer rolled his eyes, “Well, Stark, considering just how badly we’re getting our a-”
“Language!” Steve said, nodding his head in the direction where their wives and children sat watching the game as spectators.
“... tails kicked by Team Cap, I think it’s a little hard to forget!”
“We are not getting our tails kicked!” Rhodey countered.
“You keep telling yourself that, Rhodes!”
Steve laughed, shaking his head, “I know you’re the one who is supposed to be the genius and all, Tony, but I think my math is better than yours because I’m pretty sure the bigger score on our side of the board means that we’re winning!” He high fived Sam and Thor.
Tony shook his head, and looking over on the other side of the net, he called out at Thor, “You’re playing with us next time, Goldilocks!” He gestured in Clint’s direction, “This pansy can play with the losing team next time, Cap!”
The men on the other side of the net just kept on laughing.
Shaking his head, Tony jeered, “Ha! Enjoy winning while it lasts, Cap, because the game ain’t over until it’s over! It’s just all relative anyway! Isn’t that right, princess?”
At hearing her daddy say princess, Eva stepped onto the game court. “Yeah, it’s all well-a-tive!”
The three of them struggled not to laugh at the sight of the tiny Stark telling them like it was, posed with her tiny hands resting on her hips.
Smiling proudly Tony decided to take it one step further. He leaned down close to her and said, “Tell ‘em which team is the best EVER, princess!”
Eva looked at her Daddy, unsure what to say, so Tony whispered in her ear.
“Go on,” he said when she gave him an uncertain look. When she still hadn’t spoken a few seconds later, Tony knelt beside her, and put a reassuring arm around her saying, “Who’s the best team ever, sweetpea?” He whispered in her ear.
This time Eva did what her Daddy had been trying to get her to do, and shouted at her Uncles, “Iwon Man!”
If Steve or Sam had looked at each other, their ability to contain the laughter they were both trying to hold in would have been completely gone. As it was Sam had suddenly gone into a coughing fit, while Steve had turned away and went over to where they’d set up a water cooler. Thor’s eyes were bright with mirth but he did not turn away from his opponent or niece.
“Eva baby,” Pepper called out once she was in control of her own laughter, “Come back to Mommy so Daddy and your Uncles can finish their game!”
Tony kissed the side of her head, “Go back to Mommy, princess.” He stood up as she ran back to her mother watching as Pepper picked her up and seated the little girl on her lap. Once she was settled safely on the side with her mother, Tony turned back to face the net, calling out to the other team, “Are you guys ready to finish this or what?”
Sam coughed one last time and picked up the ball, “My, my, but you’re eager for us to finish whooping your collective… tails!” He gestured at Steve and Thor, “My comrades and I will be only too happy to oblige your wish and give you the EPIC tail whooping you’ve got coming!”
“You keep on dreaming, Wilson!” Rhodey retorted at his brother-in-law.
“And just think you were being friendly with that guy, Legolas!” Tony said, taking his place on the court.
“Yeah well, I won’t make that mistake again!”
Sam laughed, and served the ball. Rhodey had to make a dive to keep it from hitting the ground but he saved it, and Tony was the one who returned it over the net. The volleyball was hit back and forth for one of the longest rounds of continuous play they had had since the match had begun. The round was only interrupted when something caught Tony’s eye enough that he turned away from the action to look over at it and the ball hit him on the side of the head as a result.
“Oh my… Tony!” Pepper exclaimed, jumping up.
Tony however stopped her from running over to him by holding up a hand, and saying, “I’m okay!”
“Tony, are you sure you’re okay?” Steve asked as he crossed over to their side of the court since he’d be the one to hit the ball last.
“Yeah I’m fine, Capsicle. You’re concern is so touching!” Tony replied, resting a hand over his heart.
The other man shook his head, and with a smile asked, “What the heck were you loo… Bruce! Doctor Ross!”
Bruce turned beet red as all eyes suddenly fell on them, and he gave them a shy with his free hand, “Hi guys.”
Clint had a peculiar look on his face with his mouth open to no doubt say some sort of wisecrack when Eva ran over to the couple, and wrapped her arms around the scientist’s legs, “Unca Bruce! Unca Bruce!”
Bruce smiled, exchanged a look with Betty, and after letting go of her hand, scooped Eva up, “Hey there, kiddo!”
Eva wrapped her arms around his neck, “Missed you, Unca Bruce!”
It wasn’t hard to see that Bruce was touched by the little girl’s greeting. He wrapped an arm around her, returning her hug, “I missed you too, sweetie.” He looked her over and said, “Wow you must have grown another two inches since the last time I saw you!”
“Uh huh,” the little girl replied, suddenly shy.
Bruce smiled, gave her a quick kiss on top of her head, and put her down.
“Eva baby, come back to Mommy.”
“You know, Banner,” Clint began as Eva returned to her mother, “you two were in there so long that I thought for sure Stark was pulling our leg when he told us you were on the island now.”
It was Betty’s turn to turn beet red as Bruce rolled his eyes at the archer. He didn’t get the chance to speak the retort that was on the tip of his tongue because Sam decided to add his two cents to the conversation as well.
“Yeah, y’all were in there awhile… long enough to make me wonder if this was actually the Island from Lost instead of the privately owned slice of Heaven I thought we were standing on.”
The puzzled look on Bruce’s face said that he didn’t get the reference was that Sam was making but that was okay. Steve stepped forward to spare Bruce any further, “Alright, guys, that’s enough.” He extended his hand to Bruce, “It’s good to see you again, Dr. Banner. It’s good to have you back.”
Smiling, the scientist clasped his hand, “Thanks, Cap. It’s good to be back.”
“You know that we didn’t mean anything that we said, right?” Clint said, shaking his hand next.
“Yeah,” Sam added, taking his turn, “We were only joking.”
Bruce nodded, “Yeah, I know. Don’t worry about it.”
Thor was next, and as he talked to the Asgardian, Bruce noticed how Tony seemed to be holding back. After saying hello to Rhodey, and shaking his hand, Bruce made his way over to Tony. The look on the billionaire’s face was unreadable, and for a moment Bruce was more than a little nervous, wondering if he’d changed his mind about the invitation he’d left for him in New York. With one last noticeable swallow, he finally extended his hand, and mumbled a shy, “Hey, Tony.”
Tony kept up his act for like another second, grabbed his hand, and pulled the other man into a hug, “Hey yourself, Big Guy!”
Bruce blinked in surprise, and then released the breath he had been holding. He considered Tony to be one of the closest friends he’s ever had, especially since his life became what it was after the Hulk. But even so neither one of them were big on physical contact or overly public displays of affection, so he was surprised when the hug lasted more than a few seconds. If the length of it surprised him, the intensity of it surprised him even more. The longer Tony held onto him the more he had to blink back tears, and in a hoarse whisper when he said, “It’s good to see you again, Tony. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Yeah, me too,” Tony replied.
“And sorry again that I had to run off like that.”
“Hey, I already told you that I know you did what you had to do, and I totally get why too. So stop sweating it, okay?”
“I mean, Bruce. It’s forgotten, and if there was anything to forgive, it already would have been forgiven while I was still in prison.”
Tony ended the hug a few seconds later, not wanting it to get too much more awkward like it would have become if he’d let it go on any longer. “Now if you’ll excuse me, my team and I need to finish handing Cap’s sorry losers their collective a... uh keisters.”
A retort came immediately from Sam, “Is the sun getting to you or something, Stark? We are still WINNING!”
“Don’t count your baby falcons before they hatch, Wilson!”
Bruce smiled, shaking his head as Tony started back to the volleyball court, “Oh, Tony?”
The billionaire looked back over his shoulder, “Yeah?”
Shooting a look over at Betty, the scientist said, “Thank you.” Betty’s eyes met Bruce’s at that moment, and she smiled at him.
Tony saw the exchange, and nodding he said, “Anytime, Big Guy.”
“Yo Tones, are you coming back to the game today or should we just concede to the other side now?”
Rolling his eyes, he turned back towards the court, “I’m coming, I’m coming! Don’t get your knickers in a twist!”
“Thanksgiving was wonderful,” Pepper said softly, breaking the quiet they had been enjoying since they’d settled in the hammock together.
“Mmm, it was,” Tony murmured, in his half awake, half asleep state.
They had of course had the traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings with everyone else on the beach. Carving up the turkey, or rather turkeys, had been an interesting experience, since the platters tended to sink into the sand underneath blankets when pressure was applied but they’d managed in the end. Now everyone had gone to their separate bungalows to recuperate from the impending food comas.
“Just what we needed after the last few… horrible months,” she said, shuddering.
Tony opened his eyes when he felt her shudder, and kissed her brow before saying, “Yeah.” When he felt her shudder again, he tightened his arms around her. “I know that we won’t ever forget what happened completely, but I think that after Morgan and Hammer are sentenced, we should try to forget it as best we can.”
Both men were scheduled to be sentenced in federal court after the first of the year, and they’d already made the decision to be there to hear it. The death penalty was off the table for both of the men, they knew, but they still wanted to be present when the judge sentenced them to spend the rest of their days in prison.
“Yeah, I want to forget as much as we can once they’ve been put away forever.”
The silence returned, and although Tony was rubbing one hand against her arm, he felt himself begin to drift off. He was almost asleep when he heard Pepper sigh then she was saying something else.
“I hate that our time is almost over. It’s so beautiful here, and wonderful for it to be just us with the people we love here with us. That’s why…That’s why I’m not sure I can or ever want to go back.”
He was quiet for a moment before he responded, “Then we don’t have to.”
“I wish it were possible to stay here.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Oh, Tony, be serious.”
“I am being serious, Pep.”
Pepper sat up and looked at him, “Oh my… you are being serious, aren’t you?”
Tony nodded, “Yeah, I am. I mean what I said. We don’t have to go back to New York or even Malibu if you don’t want to.”
“Again I wish it were possible for us to stay here forever but it’s not.”
“I think you know very well why , Mr. Stark.”
“Please, Mrs. Stark, I want you to tell me why you think it is impossible for us to stay here.”
Tony rolled his eyes, “No offense, Pepper, but I was hoping for something an explanation a little more comprehensive than just because .”
Shaking her head, she laid back down, and sighed, “I suppose the biggest reason that we can’t stay in paradise forever is that we both have responsibilities to return to. I mean whether we like it or not, we… or rather I have a company to run. The board has already been more than generous with their understanding and patience these last few months. They won’t wait forever though for me to return to work.”
“So let’s sell out then.”
“I said let’s sell out then.”
“I heard what you said but I wasn’t sure I actually heard what I heard. Do you really mean that you want to sell out of the company?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I?”
Her voice was incredulous when she answered him, “Because it was your father’s company, your inheritance, and something that one day would be our children’s inheritance!” When Tony didn’t respond to what she had said, Pepper wondered if she had made a mistake bringing up Howard.
“You’re right, the company is my inheritance… and my father’s legacy. A legacy that one day would have been theirs when I passed it onto them. But you know after everything that’s happened with Morgan… after the fact I almost died because he was arrogant… so greedy to think that the company should be his and the fact that he was willing to do whatever it took to get his hands on it… I..”
He sighed, hurt filling his voice as he continued, “For most of the time I was growing up, I felt like it… the company meant more to Dad than I. Honestly, Pepper, now that I look back on it, I am surprised that I even inherited it at all. I mean as cold-blooded as he is, Morgan wasn’t wrong to believe that Dad preferred him over me since he was more like Dad than I was.”
There was a long pause from him then.
“With everything that it’s cost… at this point, I’m not sure it’s really worth hanging onto Dad’s legacy any longer.”
“Oh Tony, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For bringing your Dad into this. I shouldn’t have.”
Tony kissed the top of her head, and said, “Oh, honey, it’s okay that you mentioned Dad.”
“Is it?” Pepper responded, lifting her head to look at him, “I know how… how sensitive a subject he is for you.”
“Yeah, he is a sensitive subject for me,” he agreed, “And he’s always probably going to be on some level. But Pep, while I was in prison locked in that cell, I did a lot of thinking about a lot of things. My parents but especially my Dad was one of the main things I thought about the most. And do you know what? I think while I was there and thought about the time that he was alive in my life, I think I was finally about to come to terms with what I didn’t have with him. I’m not saying that I’ve reached a point of complete peace where he’s concerned, but I think I can accept that what never was can never be.”
The sad acceptance in his voice broke his wife’s heart, and she stroked his cheek, “Oh, Tony…”
“It’s okay, baby. Really. I mean I’ll never understand why he treated me the way that did… not even after learning about my brother. I really can’t understand him being the way he was. I really can’t understand it after becoming a father myself. I love our kids way too much that even thinking about me treating them so coldly hurts me… and I mean it hurts me, almost to the point being physically painful down to the core of my soul. I would cut off my own leg or arm before I’d ever treat them the way he treated me.”
“I know you would. I know you would.”
A lull fell over them again, and this time it was Pepper who had nearly drifted off when Tony said, “I really am being serious about selling the company. I know that if we do, we’ll be selling what should have been our kids’ inheritance and breaking my Dad’s legacy. But that’s okay and you know why it’s okay?”
“No why?” she asked, yawning.
“It will be okay because then we’ll build something, another legacy to pass onto them and to our grandchildren. It’ll be new, a better legacy and it’ll be different, and I hope it'll be good because we’ll build for them and with our family’s future in mind. I really think it’s time that we say goodbye to the past.”
“You have given this thought, and I’d like to be able to say yes right at this moment but…”
“But you need time to think about it,” he replied.
She nodded, “Yeah, I do, sorry.”
“I thought you might say something like that, and it’s okay,” Tony replied.
She turned her head so she could look at him, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I mean it’s a lot to think about,” he replied, smiling when she yawned again, “I think it’s time we stop talking and give into the callings of the food coma now.”
He smiled at his wife as Pepper had already passed out while he was talking, “Sweet dreams, honey.”
“Hey, if I could have everyone’s attention,” Bruce said as he got up.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and as they had done every other morning on the island, the families were sharing breakfast on the beach. This morning though they had all opted to spread out blankets a little further apart.
Bruce was so mild-mannered, and soft spoken that no one had heard him the first time. So he tried again saying a little more loudly, “Hey guys, can I have your attention please?” When everyone kept on talking, Bruce shared an embarrassed yet amused glance with Betty, and just when he was considering sitting back down, a single voice broke through the buzz of everyone’s chatter.
“Friends, harken and give your attention to Doctor Banner, for he wishes to make a proclamation!”
Bruce’s face turned red as everyone fell silent butall eyes fell on him. He rubbed his neck nervously as he nodded at the Asgardian, and said, “Uh thanks, Thor.”
“You are most welcome.”
Clearing his throat, the scientist begins to stumble over his words, “I uh have something that umm I’d like to announce to… to everyone.”
“Come now! Don’t be shy, Big Guy!” Tony calls out playfully, earning himself an elbow in the stomach by Pepper.
“Uh, right,” Bruce said as soon as he’s sure Tony would be quiet, “Anyway, what I want to announce is… uh… is uh…” Betty reaches up to take his hand, seeing that he’s getting all flustered, and Bruce smiles her. Then while looking down at her, he says, “I asked Betty to marry me and she said yes.”
The moment the news sank in, the women left their own blankets and were surrounding Betty at the one she was sharing with Bruce. The men basically the same thing with Bruce. Of course most of the kids weren’t old enough to understand why the adults were surrounding the couple being so loud all of a sudden so after looking on in puzzlement, the kids began to chase each other around the beach.
“So when do you think the wedding will be?” Pepper asked, later on when things were beginning to settle down.
Betty shrugged, “It’ll probably be as soon as we can get an appointment at city hall after we get back home.”
Pepper kept on smiling but the thought of her friends settling for a city hall wedding after they had waited so long to be together made her sad because she felt they deserved a wedding that was more special than that. Fortunately in that moment her husband loudly said over from where the men were standing, “Why don’t you get married here?”
“What?” Bruce exclaimed.
“I said why don’t you get married here?”
“You mean like here here ?”
“On the island?”
“On your private island?”
“No, on Asgard! Of course here on my private island!” When the scientist continued to give him a dumbstruck look Tony wrapped an arm around his friend’s shoulders, and began moving them towards some palm trees, “Brucie boy, I think maybe we should continue this conversation in the shade ‘cause the morning sun seems to be frying that big, brilliant brain of yours!”
He turned around to face his wife with a look that said "What?" .
"You know what!" Pepper said, freeing their mutual friend from his embrace. "I'm sorry about that, Bruce."
Bruce smiled at her, "It's alright, Pepper. I'm not offended. I know that Tony means well."
"Yes, but even so he still sometimes gets carried away!"
"And I just love being talked about like I'm not even standing here."
For the second time that morning, Pepper elbowed her husband in the stomach, and turned to look at their friends, "Bruce, Betty, what I am about to say isn't intended to rush you into a decision but we'd be honored if you did in fact have your wedding here on the island."
Reaching for Betty's hand, Bruce looked at her for a second before he turned back to them, "We do want to get married as soon as possible but..."
"Could we really pull a wedding together in a few days?" Betty finished.
Everyone would start leaving in the island in three days.
"That depends on whether or not you were planning on having a big wedding when you get married," Pepper said. "Were you?"
"Uh, I don't think so," Bruce said, "I mean the only family I have is you guys."
"My father was all I had left."
"So it was just going to be us and whomever we asked or could find for a witness."
Tony made a face and said, "That's just wrong! You guys getting married in some room in city hall with some random Joe Schmoe for a witness!"
"Tony, please stop badgering them about how they want to get married!" Pepper finally interjected.
"I'm not badgering them, Pep."
"Yes, you are!"
"No, I'm not and before you say 'Yes, you are' again, I am not badgering them."
"Then what do you think you're doing if not badgering them?"
"Um, I'm just pointing out that getting married at city hall with Joe Schmoe as your witness isn't the most romantic option in the world!"
There was a split second pause after he had finished speaking just before the women burst into laughter. "What? What did I say that was so funny?" Tony asked, trying to sound as clueless as possible to hide his slight embarrassment at their laughter. However things only got worse when Bruce started laughing along with his fiancée. "E tu, Bruce?"
The scientist shrugged, wiping the tears in his eyes while Pepper actually voiced what they, well what Betty and her, were thinking at his statement.
"I'm sorry, honey, but I find it hard to believe that a man, especially one named Tony Stark, is worried about romance!"
"Hey! You know I can be very romantic! What about that time we-"
Pepper quickly placed a hand over his mouth, "I don't think we need to share any details about what we do in our private time together! Besides what I meant was, there have been plenty of time you didn't consider the romance for us, so I find it funny that you're worried about whether or not another couple's wedding will be romantic enough!"
Betty recovered first after Pepper, and she smiled warmly at Tony, "You may not believe me when I say this, but I've waited so long to be with Bruce that I don't care where or how we get married just as long as we do get married. But the thought that you want to go to so much trouble for us... that's so sweet, and means a lot to us... to me." She let go of Bruce's hand, stepped over to Tony, and gave his cheek a quick peck, "Thank you, Mr. Stark."
"You're welcome," Tony murmured touching the cheek she had kissed but was unable to hide the fact that they were now a bit pink, "And please I really wish you would stop calling me 'Mr. Stark', and not because Mr. Stark was my Dad but because hey, you're about to become a part of my family. Families aren't meant to be so formal, you know?"
Her voice was soft, and tears were in her eyes when she said, "Yeah, family shouldn't be so formal and I'll try to remember not to be from now on. Forgive me if I slip?"
Tony's tone was playful when he said, "Oh, I think that can be arranged on two conditions."
"First, please don't cry. I know I have a reputation to maintain and all but I really can't take seeing a woman cry."
Wiping her eyes Betty said, "I'll try not to."
"So what's the second condition?"
"Number two is simply this, and only this will do. You two have to say 'I do' here on this island."
"Tony..." Pepper began then stopped, giving her husband a very exasperated look.
He knew by the look, he'd probably hear about this later. But it'd be worth it to him and might actually happen given the fact that he saw more amusement in his friends' eyes than anything else. He also heard it in Bruce's voice when he spoke a few seconds later.
"You just don't give up do you?"
"Oh, you know me."
"Yeah, I do...enough to know that unless we agree to this, you probably won't drop it for the rest of the time we're here. Am I right?" Bruce said, thinking about all the times he had worked in the lab with Tony, and how unrelenting the man could be when he wanted Bruce to help him with something.
The mischievous glint in the billionaire's eyes only deepened when he answered, "What do you think?"
Chuckling Bruce shakes his head, "That would be a no." He shook his head again at the smirk Tony gives him. He glances at Betty, then gets a little serious as he says, "Okay, if we say yes to this, and that's a big if, I have two questions I want answered first."
Judging by the look she was giving Tony, he'd probably hear about his inability to drop this later. But until they were alone, Pepper smiled when she looked at the other couple again and asked, "What are they?"
"Well, the first one is: Do you really think that we can pull everything together before we're supposed to leave for home?"
Threading her arm through his, Pepper looked her husband straight in the eye and asked, "That's a really good question. So do you?" She laid her head on his shoulder before he could answer her question.
He wrapped his arm all the way around her, and kissed the top of her head before turning to answer the question that had been presented, "Alright you want to know if I think a wedding for you two can be put together before everyone starts leaving for home?"
Bruce and Betty both nodded.
"I think it can, and before you ask how or say it can't be done, let me remind you that you're planning on getting married at city hall when you get back to the States."
"Yeah, but-" Bruce began.
Tony held up a hand, "Hold on, Big Guy, I'm not finished making my point yet."
"Oops, sorry. Go ahead."
"Thank you. Now Betty?"
"A few minutes ago in this conversation you said that you don't care where or how you get married just as long as you and Bruce get married. Yes or no?"
"Yes, I did say that. But-"
"Ah ah ah!" he countered, holding up a finger, "Let me make my point." He waited to make sure she would then he continued, "My point is, if you guys just want to get married and don't have to have a big wedding to do it, then why not do it here with the rest of us? I mean wouldn't it be better to have your friends be your witnesses rather than Joe Schmoe?"
Betty nodded conceding to his point, while Bruce was verbal, "Yes, I will admit that getting married with our friends there would be better. But that brings me to my second question which is if we get married here, will it have the same legal standing in the States?"
"Yep, believe it or not, it will be legal in the United States. Or it will be as long as we do everything the local jurisdiction requires, and what they require is nothing that can't be done in the time we have… if you guys want to do it that is."
"Give us a few minutes alone to talk about it?" Bruce said after looking at Betty.
"Of course," Pepper said, and began walking away while pulling Tony with her.
They walked a few feet down the beach away from everyone but where they could see their kids, who were busy burying their godfather in the sand. Tony watched them a few minutes then looked at his wife.
"You're kinda upset with me, aren't you?"
She gave him a side-eyed look and said in the same tone he had used earlier with Bruce, "Oh, you know me."
He sighed, "Yeah, I do so that's a yes. Look, Pep, I'm sorry I kept pushing them but I-"
"I'm not upset with you... just exasperated. I know you mean well, honey, but this is their decision, their business."
He nodded, "I know. I know it's ultimately their decision."
"Do you? Because your persistence up until this point has said otherwise."
"Well, I do know, you know? And I promise if they came back with a no, I will drop it. Okay?"
Pepper nodded, "I'm gonna hold you to that promise."
"Yeah, I know," Tony said with a sigh, "But...but I think maybe after every single thing that we've been through this year just makes me want to see everyone have the ones they love with them because you never know what life is going to throw at you or when the breath you just breathed in might actually be your last one."
As he spoke, he had one of his hands clutching his other arm where the arm bends rubbing a thumb over the exact area where they had inserted one of the needles for the lethal injection. Pepper was certain that he was unaware that he was doing it but she reached a point to where she couldn't take the visual reminder anymore, and placed a hand over his. Her mouth was open to speak but she never got the words out.
"Yes?" Pepper immediately said, sliding her hand into Tony's.
"We want to do it... want to get married here on the island," Bruce said, "and that's all."
"What we mean is," Betty continued, "We don't want any fuss made. We'll get married here but we don't want anything special to be done because of it."
"You mean you don't want a party?" Tony supplied.
"Yes, exactly. We don't want a party... here or when we get back home."
"Then there won't be one. Right Tony?"
The billionaire sighed loudly, "No, there won't. If that's what you guys really want."
After a glance at her husband, Pepper squeezed Tony's hand. She had seen the disappointment flash briefly through his eyes. She had to admit that she felt the same way he did but if their friends didn't want a big deal made of them getting married, then they wouldn't make a big deal out of it. Then she had an idea and before she could stop herself, she voiced it aloud.
"How about then after the ceremony, we have a celebratory dinner for the family?"
Bruce looked over at Betty, and she in turn looked at Tony and Pepper, “If we say yes, and that’s a big if, the dinner has to be just a simple, plain, ordinary dinner for the family. Nothing fancy.”
“Ah, man! You’re killing my style here, Banner!” Tony said with a groan.
“I know, Tony,” the scientist said with a smile, “But it’s how we’d like things. Just something simple.”
Tony had opened his mouth to reply but was unable to because once more his wife’s hand covered it. Instead, she said, “Then that’s what you’ll have, and it’ll be our pleasure to honor your wishes. Right, honey?” Pepper asked, not removing her hand.
Tony nodded, and muttered something unintelligible.
“Well, then, it looks like we have a wedding to put together!”
With all this wedding talk for Bruce and Betty, I bet you are all wondering if I am going to have a chapter dedicated to just Tony and Pepper? Don't worry! The next chapter will be (almost) exclusively about them!
I'm not sure I am completely satisfied with this chapter but I am posting it anyway.
The next chapter will also be Tony and Pepper centric heavy as their day alone together continues!
A light breeze flitted in from the ocean through the open window of their bedroom waking Tony up enough to kiss the side of his wife’s head. The kiss was followed by the tightening of his arms around her, which in turn made Pepper wake up. After a few more nuzzles into her hair and neck, the warmth of the morning sun worked in concert with the warmth of her body against his to send him drifting off back into sleep… until he felt her pull her way out of his arms.
“Hey!” he complained, opening his eyes, “Get back here!”
The woman he loved did nothing but smile at him, nothing making move to meet his demands that she to her former position in his arms. Instead she wrapped herself up in the light bathrobe, before she went over to the window. She did not fight the smile that crossed her lips when she heard him give another groan of complaint, completely feeling his eyes on her as he watched her from the bed.
“It’s beautiful outside,” she said, watching the horizon for a moment.
“Mmmhmm,” Tony murmured unenthusiastically with a yawn, “Come on, Pep, come back to bed. We can sleep in today. Let’s not waste the chance!”
“But we didn’t waste it! It’s almost eight thirty!”
He groaned, and pulled the sheet up over his head, “It’s just almost eight thirty? I think ten sounds waaaaaaaay better! Honey, come back to bed, and let’s get some more sleep.”
“But if we sleep until ten we’ll be wasting almost half of our day!”
A grunt was the only reply that he gave her.
“Come on, Tony! Get up so we can go outside and enjoy the day!” Pepper said, turning towards him. When he didn’t move or give any indication that he was going to get up, or was even alive she flounced over to the bed, and snatched the sheet off of him.
“Hey!” he protested before sitting up and trying to grab back the sheet.
His wife wisely stood just out of his reach, but that didn’t stop him from getting up on all fours anyway and trying to grab the sheet away from her, “Give that back to me!”
“No, I want to go exploring the island and I want you to come with me! Come on, Tony! Get up and get out of bed!” She waved the sheet around just within his reach, and pulled it back whenever he made a grab for it.
He made a few tries to grab it, and then sat back on the bed, shaking his head, “You’re not going to come back to bed, are you?”
He tilted his head, thinking, then said, “So you want to spend the day exploring, hmm?”
Pepper nodded, “Yes, I do. I mean since it’s something we can’t do too easily when the kids are with us.”
Running a hand through his hair, Tony had to nod in agreement with his wife’s assessment.It was true, they really couldn’t. Ethan and Eva were both at the age they’d rather spend their time on the island playing on the beach with their parents than go exploring with them. That would probably change in a few years from now but until then exploration with them had to be ruled out since they both wanted their children to enjoy their time here as much as their parents were enjoying theirs..
“So, you want to go exploring, huh?” he repeated.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Okay then, we’ll go explore the island,” he said, getting out of bed at last, “But first, I want to go take a shower.”
“Alright, while you’re doing that, I’ll go pack us up some food and drinks to take with us while we’re exploring.”
Pepper had turned away to make her way to the kitchen, and she stopped when she heard him grumble, “What now?”
Tony shrugged, shooting her his imploring look as he said, “I just thought maybe you’d like to join me?”
He had walked up to her, and started trailing kisses down her neck, murmuring into her ear between the kisses, “Come on, baby, we’ve got all day to ourselves to do whatever we want.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to get an early start…”
“The island will still be there waiting for us. Please come and take a shower with me?”
Tony had kept on kissing her as he spoke, and she could hear the longing in his voice. Pepper sighed, and finally allowed herself to melt into his touch, nodding, simply saying, “Okay.”
The kisses stopped, “Okay?”
She looked at him, and nodded, “Yeah, okay. I mean you’re right about how we’re not in any real hurry. This is our day to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We don’t have to be anywhere at any set time. Right?”
Smiling, she took his hand, and it was she who led the way into the bathroom.
They walked out of their bungalow’s door almost an hour later, then went straight to the jeep parked in the nearby detached garage. The jeep was normally used by the island’s hired live on caretakers, so last night before they had gone to bed, Tony had checked just to make sure the vehicle had enough gas for the day of exploring they wanted to do.
Pepper opened the jeep's passenger door, then climbed inside while Tony finished stowing their picnic basket and blankets in the back. Before he closed the back up, he called out to his wife to ask, "Hey honey, did you want to drive?"
She looked back at him, and gave a shake of her head, "No, I'm fine with letting you drive."
She could see he was hesitating, and she knew she had answered in a way he wasn’t completely expecting because he knew she wasn’t the biggest fan of his driving. It was true since the kids had come along in their lives, he was far more careful behind the wheel but whenever they went anywhere together, she still preferred Happy to be the one to drive them.
He finally nodded, closed the back hatch, and walked around to the driver's side. He climbed in, then started the jeep's engine, "Okay, let's get this show on the road." He turned the jeep around, and started down the path that would lead them to the other side of the island.
“So,” Tony began as he watched his wife tread water in the pool in front of the waterfall, “Have you given any more thought about us just selling out of the company and taking an early semi-retirement?”
Her answer to his question make him wait a little while so she could take another lap around the pool of water. He didn’t know if she was trying to get a reaction out of him or not so he just shrugged when she swam away, deciding that he would wait for when she was ready to give him an answer to his question. After she swam around for another five minutes she came back over to him and exited the water.
Pepper still didn’t speak as she dried herself off and tied her sarong around her waist. Sitting down beside him on the blanket, she gave him a look, before she nodded, “Yes, I have been giving it some more thought.”
“And?” he inquired, watching as his wife opened up her water bottle.
She took a sip, shrugging, “I… uh honestly don’t know. I mean it’s only been… since like a very short time since you made the suggestion.”
“Yeah, I know it’s only been a little while,” he replied, “But I just thought that you might have some... uh you know more thoughts on it.”
“Well, considering you only brought it up like literally yesterday, on the same day we convinced two of our friends to have their wedding on our private island, I have to say I haven’t given it too much more thought. ” Out of the corner of her eye, when she saw him nod, she turned her head fully towards him where she could see what she knew to be disappointment on his face, “But I’m open to talking more about it right now if you would like to?”
Tony stared at her for a moment, “I uh would… but only if it’s okay with you if we do?”
“Yes, it’s okay.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I don’t want to rush--”
“Tony, it’s okay... really," she added that last part when he gave her a skeptic look, "So where do you want to start?"
"Well, maybe we can start with what do you think of the idea of selling out?"
Pepper thought about it for a few seconds, then answered, "I don't know. It's hard for me to know what to think when I have never thought that selling out would be something you'd--"
"We'd... something that we'd want to do," he corrected then signaled for her to go on.
"Okay, then we'd want to do... although technically I think I should still be saying you because you are the one who was born with the last name of Stark. I just married into the family."
" Just married into... Pepper, honey you did more than just married into the family... and you have no less of a right to the claims of being a Stark than I do! In fact, I think sometimes that you have more of a claim to being a Stark than me!"
"And how do you figure that?"
"Because you are the owner of my heart to begin with. For another, you are the mother of my children... who will of course be my... well our heirs since they're the next generation of...--" His voice trailed off when he looked over at her to find she was shaking her head, and had an amused look on her face, "What?"
"What?" she repeated. "What?"
"Yes. what? And why do you look like you're about to laugh at me?"
"Because I am about to laugh at you maybe?"
"Okay mind telling me exactly what did I do to earn your mirth?"
"What did you do? I can't believe you are asking me that question!"
"Well, believe it because I am asking you that question! So what did I do?"
Watching him scowl in confusion and consternation at her, Pepper finally couldn't contain her laughter any longer, and the bright sound burst forth from her lips. She tried to stop, she really did but when her husband tried to give her an attempt at a menacing look, he only succeeded in making her laugh that much harder.
Finally Tony rolled his eyes, and threw his hands into the air obviously completely clueless as to why his wife was in the middle of a mad giggle fest, so he just huffed (bad mistake as it made her laugh harder), and decided to just let her get it all out. Eventually when she stopped laughing, he decided to try again, "So what was so funny?"
"Care to be a little more specific, Pep, or should I just try to read your mind?"
Still giggling just a little, she started to answer his question, "What's so funny is... the fact that you asked me what I think of us selling out of the company you were about to go off on some sort of side... train of thought just because I made the statement that I wasn't born into the Stark family or name like you were!"
"Oh, is that what set the laughing at me off?"
"Oh my but YES !!!" was all she could get out.
He tried his best to scowl at her but it lasted all of five seconds before he was smiling at her, and shaking his head. She was wiping away tears of mirth when he wrapped his arms around her, and pulled them both down onto the blanket. Another few minutes went by as Pepper continued to get the last of the giggles out of her system. In the meantime he kissed the side of her head every so often, patiently waiting for the moment he could resume talking to her about the issue.
“I love hearing you laugh,” Tony said after she finally just beginning to settle down.
“Oh, you do, do you?”
“Mmm hmm, I do. Even when it’s at my own expense.”
“Even when it’s…” Pepper stopped there, propping herself up on her elbow she looked down at him, “I was going to ask you if you were being serious, but I can see that you are , aren’t you?”
“You really like it when people laugh at--”
“Not people , honey. You . I’m only okay with being laughed at it’s at my own expense when it’s you who is doing the laughing… and no one else… well except maybe…”
“Yes, but don’t you dare ever tell him I said that.”
His wife smiled at him before she laid back down, putting her head back on his shoulder, “Are you sure you don’t want me to tell him that?”
“I’m sure I don’t want you to tell him that!”
“You mean besides the fact he’d take every opportunity that comes his way to take me up on what I said?”
“Yes, besides that.”
“I uh… he will enjoy it too much?”
“That’s not a reason, Tony.”
“I’m afraid not.”
She knew he was getting flustered, and was trying to find a way to figure out good enough a reason for her to not betray what he had told her in confidence. She let him sweat it out a few more seconds and deciding he had had enough, let him off the hook, “Relax, I am not going to tell him!”
“Promise?” he asked, feeling her shake her head.
“I promise, I won’t tell him.”
“You’re welcome but would it be so bad if he knows?”
Tony knew all Rhodey would do would be to tease him relentlessly, but that’s what brothers did, or at least he thought that’s what brothers did. He couldn’t be one hundred percent sure since he didn’t get to grow up with his older brother. Even so still he did have an idea from watching how his own children interacted with each other, along with how his nieces and nephews. The boys definitely loved to tease their sisters a lot. He knew from many hours of observation that Ethan teased Eva a lot. But by virtue of those same hours, he also knew his son loved his little sister like crazy, and would protect her in a second if he needed to. His kids were as close as he has imagined that he and his brother would have been if Steven hadn’t--
Steven may have died before Tony could ever remember him but he knew he hadn’t lost having a brother completely. Not when he had Rhodey and not when they’d always been thick as thieves since the day they’d met at MIT.
We have always been brothers, We always will be brothers , he thought.
“Yes, you will,” Pepper softly declared, breaking into his thoughts.
“I’m just confirming what you said about how you will always be brothers with Jimmy.”
“Did I say all that I was thinking out loud or something?”
“Well I don’t know if you said all of what you were thinking out loud, but you did say that part about how you and Jim will always be brothers, and I just had to agree with you. So was that your answer to my question about would it being so bad?”
“I… uh suppose it was?”
She smiled at the uncertainty in his voice, and once more she let her husband swaet a little before she repeated herself , “Don’t worry. I won’t tell him if you don’t want me to.”
“You’re welcome. So is there anyone else you don’t mind them laughing at your expense just so you can hear them laugh?"
"I think after it being like pulling teeth to get you to promise not to tell Rhodey, honey, I think I am going to let you take a guess about who I may or may not mind laughing at my expense if it means I can hear them laughing."
"If I guess out loud, will you tell me if I am right?"
"I uh... guess I could?"
He sounded uncertain about doing this, probably because he didn't want to give them ammunition... or more likely, he didn't want them to know he was softer than they already believed him to be. Little did he know but they already knew he was actually softer than he decades long public reputation said he was. So she decided that she wouldn't ask him if any of the Avengers were in this particular group of his, even if she was sure that they were. Instead, she'd only ask him about the one other person who had known him longer than she had but not quite as long as Rhodey.
"What about him?"
"He's one of them, isn't he?"
While she waited for him to answer, Pepper could feel his fingers playing with her hair, betraying his nervousness. She nodded her head, and confirmed aloud, "Yes, I'm sure . I am not going to repeat this. So am I right? Is it Happy?"
He mumbled a single syllable answer to her question.
"What? What did you say?"
"Yes. I said yes, Happy ."
Happy, so she was right.
"He's just serious all of the time you know?” Tony said, gesturing with his free hand, “He needs to loosen up sometimes and if it takes him laughing at me to get him to laugh... well I guess I can take one for the team."
"Yeah, you're right about Happy," she agreed, "He is too serious most of the time... when he's working."
"Which is always !"
"Yes, well if he's always working and serious, you do know it's because of us right?"
"Because of us?"
"Yes, because of us ."
"Pep, how can it be because of us when we try to give Happy time off regularly and he doesn't take it?"
"Close but still no banana,” Pepper chuckled.
"Okay, okay, if you’re going to be so technical about every once and awhile. But either way, he still won't take us up on it. You know he doesn't."
"I know he doesn't but I think it's only because he's worried something will happen to one of us if he's not there to watch out for us. Maybe we could try harder to get him to take some days off?" The moment he said the words, Tony knew how ridiculous they were, and he laughed, "I know you don't have to tell me that it won't work. Happy's a bit too, as I've heard a certain someone say on the battle a few times, stubborn son of a gun to trust us with our own safety for a day."
"Son of a gun?" His wife inquired in an amused tone.
"Uh huh, and I know you can guess which one of us used that phrase!"
Yes, she could easily have guessed who used that phrase, and she didn't need to say her guess out loud as she knew that her husband knew who she'd say. Instead she replayed the their conversation in her head,and realized they were far off the path of the original subject they’d started out on. "You asked me what I think about us selling out of the company?"
"Mmm hmm, I believe that I did."
"So after we sell out, what did you have in mind? Were you thinking that we should take a super earlier retirement? Because if that’s what you are thinking I might have some thoughts on the subject."
When he didn't say anything, she took it as her cue to go on, "Well, you know how ever since I left home to go to college."
"Well, I uh think going into an early retirement might actually be a shock to my system. I've been going to work almost every day since I left home for college that I might not know what to do with myself if all of a sudden I don't have to go to work anymore."
"Uh honey, you don't have to work now. Look at who you're married to."
Pepper rolled her eyes, which of course he couldn't see, so she very lightly smacked him on his abdomen, laughing while she asserting, "I'm pretty sure you know what I meant!"
He made a show of rubbing the spot she'd struck but she hadn't been using much force, so she knew she hadn't hurt him, and besides that he was also laughing with her.
"Yeah, I know what you meant by that."
A minute or two passed while the two of them got their laughter out, and then they were both quiet for another minute or so. Finally, Pepper resumed what she'd been saying before he'd interrupted her with his joke.
"When I said I don't have to work, I didn't mean I didn't I have to work. I've known that for awhile now that I didn't have to actually work anymore to support myself like I did in college. Or like when I had just graduated and needed to pay off all of my student loans. Even before you decided to make me CEO, I didn’t have a life or death need to work anymore."
She left unspoken the fact she knew he had always been more than generous with what he paid her. Even when she was just his personal assistant, she had made more than enough money to meet the payments on all of her bills every month, and then had plenty left in her bank account to live comfortably on.
"But I can’t help but think that if we decide to sell out, I will be out of a job since I doubt the board will want me to stay around.”
"Awww, you shouldn't underestimate yourself, Pep, or how much the board loves you!"
"Whether they love me or not, I don't think they are going to want me around running what will be their company once we sell out. I mean once we sell out, I will essentially become an outsider, and honestly, if you were them, would you want an outsider running your company?"
"Under normal circumstances I would say, not I wouldn't. But when the outsider is you , the answer should be a yes , without a second of doubt or any hesitation! Or at least that should be the case with anyone who has half a working brain!"
"Well thank you for the compliment and vote of confidence, dear, but I still don't think once we sell out they will want me staying on board at Stark Industries."
"So what if they don't?" Tony said, breaking the few seconds of silence between them, "And if they don't, it's like we've said, you don't need the job. If that’s what happens, I hope we can take a little time off together for just us and the kids before we do something about it, And before you say anything let me say yes I think I have an idea in mind about what we could do if after awhile you decide you want to go back to work ."
"Are you going to share the idea right now or am I going to have to wait until a later date to hear them?"
"I'd say you will have to wait to hear it later but if I do that--"
"You might forget what it is are in the meantime?"
"Knowing me, yeah, I probably would forget the idea by then."
"So, what is your idea?"
"It’s a simple, yet brilliant one.”
“Wanna share with the class, Professor Stark?”
“We start our own company."
"We start our own company ?"
"Yes, we start our own company."
She sat up and looked at him, "You're being serious, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am because you’re right when you said once we're out they aren't going to let us back in. Unless, of course, we buy our way back in. And I bet they would use the opportunity to make back the money they paid when they bought us out!"
"Oh, I'm sure they would! Wouldn't you?"
"Yes, I probably would, which is why I think us building our own company from the ground up will be the only option we have."
"Unless..." Pepper started, and paused a moment before suggesting, "I go work at another company that's already been established."
"Huh yeah, I guess you could do that... if you want to be bored."
"I wouldn't be bored!"
"Yes, you would!"
"No, I wouldn't not!"
"Yes, you would !"
"No, I would not be bored, Tony!"
"Yes, you would ," he countered again, using his fingers to cover her lips when she parted them to argue with him, "You know you would be because if you go work for an already established company, you'd have to follow their rules, and their goals, and their way of doing things!"
"You do know that unlike someone who shall remain nameless, I don't have a problem following the rules." She heard her husband give a huff, and adding before he could verbally respond, "But that said, I suppose you're right. I would have to follow their rules and guidelines."
“Which sounds boooooooooooring!”
Pepper rolled her eyes, thinking about how much he sounded like their son just then.
"Besides the following their rules, you'd also have to follow their schedule. You wouldn't be able to make your own."
"Well you know that, even with our own company, making my own schedule would eventually become a moot point. I mean that's always been the case in the past. Because once have it off of the ground you know as well as I do that the scheduling will start to dictate itself."
He thought about what she had just said, and he had to admit that she was right. It always seemed that no matter how much his wife had tried to wrangle in her work schedule back into line, it always found a way to wrangle itself right back out of line from her
"Forget I said what I said about the schedule then."
"But unpredictable schedules aside, you know setting up a new company will be a challenge,. I know you love challenges, Pep. I mean you married me, so you must."